Been away from the blog posting for a while with no excuse just focusing a bit of my time on some marketing analytics to investigate whether my blog is even worth my while. Ironic huh? For my ego, it’s working! But as a message delivery system for marketing my talks, not so sure. Our initial information seems to indicate potential clients struggle with my message? Funny, because once someone hears me, they say things like…”I heard him speak thirty years ago and have never forgotten his message”. When pressed about what that was, almost every person has a very specific reply and it’s always…personal! So is today’s blog.
I was sent a news item from a colleague of mine in Los Angeles about a story on FOX News. And no, it’s not “fake”. The story itself hits much closer to home than a typical post about mistreatment of someone in a food and drink franchise because this time, it’s about a three year old little boy without arms. His name is William Bancroft (if you want to confirm the story) and he was in an IHOP somewhere in Arkansas having breakfast with his family. His mother, Alexis, claims the general manager took issue with William, who like me, eats with his feet. Unlike me, William apparently sits right on the table and he was fiddling with the syrup containers when the boss suggested it was unsanitary. Frankly, before you get in a huff here, I think it’s a completely appropriate question but apparently, William’s mom, Alexis, didn’t! She felt offended questioning the manager if she asks all the customers using their hands if they washed them before touching the containers, and also mentioning she had washed William’s feet in the washroom before they sat down. The story then reads that the Bancrofts were so offended, they left the IHOP without paying for their drinks and then posted on social media a picture of William and a graphic…”Boycott IHOP”, which apparently has gone viral. Wow!
First, I have no intention of boycotting IHOP. Second, and you may not like this, but I think both parties are wrong! Clearly, this little boy had every right to eat with his feet in public. I’ve been doing it for 56 years. But my Mom never once let me sit on a table in an IHOP or any other pancake place and mess with the syrup containers. She considered it very bad manners! I had to sit in a high chair and if one wasn’t available, I had to sit on phone books. I have never been asked to leave a restaurant for eating with my feet. I actually begin my International Bestselling book, “Alvin’s Laws of Life” with a story about eating at Corky’s Ribs in Memphis in 1992 and being told by its Manager that a couple next to our table complained about me eating with my feet and asked to be re-seated away from me. The Manager was incredible. He actually told them he would not be moving them as the restaurant was packed and had a waiting list so stay or leave. They actually left! Cool!
I need to say this: Using your feet to eat is pretty gross. I remember the first time I actually watched someone else eat with their feet. I was 28 years old. Isn’t that bizarre? Actually, it’s not bizarre at all. People like me and little William are extreme rare. So rare that under the training programs of the majority of restaurants receive, there is not a guideline for foot users. I have asked a couple of restaurant owners I know to make sure I got that right. In fact, I’d be shocked to see that in any training program. I’m not giving the IHOP Manager a pass but I also think William’s mom is overreacting. I know about this. I have seen people see me for over 55 years and indeed, have been insulted, demeaned, belittled, etc…name the adjective. I adopted a very simple approach…Change Chairs!
It was only a few years ago I altered my approach to interactions with people. I have always asked my audiences to picture a “Day In My Life”. Frankly, that’s practically impossible. I believe it’s also impossible to imagine any “disability” but not having arms seems to stretch the concept. Imagine how many times I’ve heard…”What happened to you?” It’s a great question. And if people don’t actually ask it out loud, they “all” do it in their heads. So my wife and business partner, Darlene, suggested I preempt the question and explain what’s up. It is very simple. It started in a Drive-Thru burger joint. Darlene’s been a witness to this interaction for 27 years. What’s fascinating is when we met, she had never met anyone like me in her life. Ironically, she recalled seeing me on television before, something I hear from literally hundreds of thousands. I’ve done a lot of TV. But when we found a common attraction, I’m not sure who was more surprised. She concedes to this day she had no idea why my using my feet didn’t really bother her and I was honestly shocked she found me remotely attractive! As most of my friends, Darlene included, would acknowledge…it takes a while to get used to me!
So whether a Drive-Thru, checking in to a hotel, buying something in a store or even, eating at IHOP, I never assume the customer service representative is going to have any experience with someone without arms. So Darlene suggested it be the first thing I say after “Hello”. “I was born without arms and I use my feet so hope you don’t mind”! It changed everything! In fact, I usually hear…”Wow. What an inspiration!”, or…”Cool”!
I have no idea if this IHOP Manager had any experience with an armless foot user and let’s remember, the huge majority of restaurants have a “No Shoes, No Service” policy as well so why this mom chose to leave and then launch a boycott campaign seems a bit sketchy to me.
Yet, yesterday (May 29, 2018), Starbucks closed over 8,000 of its outlets across the United States for “Sensitivity Training” after one of their Managers in Philadelphia called police on two black men who simply wanted to use the washroom. Good for Starbucks. It would have been way cheaper and way less trouble to simply blame the Manager, even fire them but instead, the CEO of Starbucks publicly apologized and promised better training.
Why am I mentioning two seemingly very different stories. Because to me, they are identical. I would never have called the cops on those men, but that’s me. Shockingly, I would probably have asked Alexis Bancroft, William’s mom, to ask her to get her son off the table and stop playing with the syrup, but that’s me.
We all have our own stories and therefore, own perspectives. “Sensitivity Training” doesn’t exist because “everyone” is racist or uncomfortable with feet but because it should be mandatory for any customer service representative as best practice for any business. I’m often asked by potential clients what their people will “get” from my talk. I always answer…”I don’t know because I don’t know what your people know! I do know they will be different after seeing me speak because “everyone” needs to grow as a simple function of being human”.
By the way, I have no plans to boycott IHOP or Starbucks. But I also believe every consumer/business interaction is a two way street with both parties needing to up their games but since consumers are the ones paying the bill, business needs to do whatever it takes to make it a mutually beneficial experience. I go out of my way to do that for business…do you?